Burton Winters’ mother, Paulette Winters-Rice, acknowledges there is a rift between her family and her late son’s other parents, but they all agree on the necessity of an inquiry into the 14-year-old’s death on the ice off Makkovik.
In an exclusive interview, she spoke recently about the devastating loss, and of how she and her husband, Steven Rice, and their children have had to endure knowing that Burton will never come home.
“Every day always seems like (Jan. 29), the night he went missing,” said Winters-Rice, choking back tears.
“We do not even know how to deal with it,” added Rice.
In addition to his brother, 10-month-old Elliott Jacque, Burton has a brother, 11-year-old Gage, and a sister, 10-year-old Marissa, the children of Rice and Winters-Rice.
Rice said since Burton’s death, he has been calling Labrador MP Peter Penashue’s office almost daily, trying to arrange a meeting with him and asking him to pressure the government to call an inquiry.
“I have been calling Penashue day after day after day, trying to get a meeting set up. So far nothing has happened,” Rice said.
Winters-Rice said Burton lived with them until he was nine years old, and then he went to live with his father, Rodney Jacque, and stepmom, Natalie Jacque.
Winters-Rice said she wanted to tell Burton’s story because she does not agree with his other family’s approach.
‘Nobody wants to take responsibility for this mistake’ .
“The way I am taking it right now, they are pulling Burton into everything,” Winters-Rice said. “I think they should be letting him rest. I don’t mind that they are going after (improved search and rescue) for Labrador, but … they don’t need to keep dragging him back into the picture.”
She remembers her son as an avid fisherman who loved camping and was very accepting of others.
He also loved books, and Winters-Rice says she used to read to him every night and that by the age of one, he was reading on his own.
Burton was also learning to speak his people’s native tongue and would often speak it with his grandfather, Willie Winters.
On the night he went missing, Winters-Rice says her aunt came to her house after her sister had seen a missing alert posted on Facebook.
“At the time, we were not even sure it was my son, so I called my mom and she was trying to find out if it was Burton,” she recalls.
The day Burton’s body was found, she and her husband were in Makkovik and the RCMP told the families they had found his snowmobile.
“I was right excited, saying, ‘Oh good! They’re going to have him …’ and (then the RCMP) left,” Winters-Rice said.
She says about two minutes later, the RCMP returned and she figured they would have Burton with them. She said they came in and it seemed like they stood there forever.
“They were looking at me and not saying anything. Finally they opened their mouth and said they found him, and I was happy. Then they told me it wasn’t good and told me he was gone,” she recalled.
“After hearing that, I fell to the floor. I fell to the floor crying. I could not even breathe. I told them to stop lying to me. I screamed at them to ‘Stop lying to me! Stop lying to me!’” said Winters-Rice, sobbing.
She asked if she could see her son and was told they had taken him to the hospital.
“We were told they were doing CPR on him for over four hours, and they told us they could keep going. But there is no point. He was not going to come back,” said Winters-Rice.
She feels the government has not been truthful about what really happened.
“(Capt. John Gardham of the Department of National Defence) kept on changing why (the helicopters) never came. Nobody wants to take responsibility for this mistake,” she said.
“If they told the truth from the start, (these calls for an inquiry) would have been avoided.”
Winters-Rice also suspects there wasn’t more effort to find Burton the night he went missing because of his ethnicity.
“I feel that because he was Inuit, it played a role in what happened, and because we are native, they figured, ‘Oh well, they won’t say anything. They’re too quiet,’ because Inuit people are quiet,” she said.
Winters-Rice said every life is important and the government should be accountable for the loss of her son.
“I picture him every day, from the day he was born up to his death. I wish I could hold him and kiss him. … He was so good,” she said.